Imaginary College Students

The third chapter discussed disabled students' multimodality, which was defined as "communication and composition across textual, linguistic, spatial, aural, and visual resources" (p. 99). Dolmage pointed out that there was an intersection between literacy and ability versus illiteracy and disability. He described rhetorical literacy craft and ability craft, which referred to "ways of insinuating that a lack of literacy or a lack of modality are actually deficits, biological deficits, and that if you don't have these things, you are disabled" (p. 110). This built on the notion that disabled people were to blame for their needs, rather than addressing the lack of accommodations. Dolmage illustrated this phenomenon using Somnolent Samantha, a fictional story of disabled student accommodation. He described the fictional stories of two characters in a classroom—Super Samantha (a student who was fluent in multimodality) and Slow Samantha (a student who struggled with multimodality), and discussed the various ways their professors perceived and interacted with them because of their multimodality.

Super Samantha or Slow Samantha?

In this case, I propose that critical multimodality could apply to disabled students using writing centers available to university students. In her article, "Transcending 'conversing': A deaf student in the writing center," Weaver (1996) recalled her experience tutoring a Deaf student referred by a hearing professor. The professor identified the Deaf student's problem as "having more to do with conceptualizing than with the ability to express" (p. 242). However, Weaver argued that the Deaf student had the ability to conceptualize but did not effectively express her ideas through her writing because she used American Sign Language (ASL) as her first language and English as her second language.

This hearing professor misunderstood how conceptualizing and writing work in the mind of this Deaf student, particularly when complicated by the translation from ASL to written English—which is a different process from that which occurs in the mind of hearing students moving from spoken English to written English. Thus, by misrepresenting the student's struggle as a personal deficit, the professor ignored the differences in the communication and conceptualization experiences of this student (Weaver, 1996). In other words, the professor identified the Deaf student as Slow Samantha, while Weaver identified the Deaf student as Super Samantha.

I experienced a similar phenomenon in my own education when my professor told me to improve my rhetorical writing on my prelim papers. I could not understand why I needed to improve my rhetorical writing. My peer tutor explained its definition and reviewed my papers. She identified that I had included arguments in my papers, but that my arguments were not clearly presented. My peer tutor and I examined my papers thoroughly, and we finally discovered these main facts: I used a Japanese style of argumentation; my grammar errors originated from my accents in Japanese, English, and ASL; and there was no translation definition of rhetorical writing in Japanese or ASL, but only in critical writing. In this way, my professor mischaracterized me as Slow Samantha, while my peer tutor recognized me as Super Samantha.

study room with students studying
Studying room (Photograph by Elizabeth Monge, 2017)